As the dust has settled in the aftermath of this year’s elections, a surprising idea is gaining steam on Guam. For years, Guam legislators have debated the idea of shifting to a part-time legislature, but the issue was often shot down as many senators feared that it would affect them adversely. However, the results of the election clearly show that there is interest in turning the Legislature into a part-time body – seven of the senators elected were endorsed by Guam’s Action PAC Inc., which made the issue a key part of its platform.

Advocates have good reason to support this initiative. A part-time legislature would benefit the island financially and strengthen its current system of self-governance.

A shortened session would also allow more people to get involved and run for office. There are many businesspeople, lawyers, medical professionals and others who forgo the ability to serve because they are unable or unwilling to give up their present careers. Guam’s representation is harmed by the relative lack of viewpoints of people with these backgrounds. In a part-time legislature, these citizens would be able to serve while maintaining a career separate from politics. In fact, Hawaii’s part-time legislature enables representatives like Lynn Decoite to serve her community while also being able to work on her family’s sweet potato farm. Having session days compacted to one part of the year also would allow lawmakers to better engage with the community on the issues that matter to them most because it would allow them more time to conduct constituent outreach, host town halls and travel to meet less politically active residents.

Enacting a part-time legislature would help Guam financially as well, and this is desperately needed given that Guam currently faces a fiscal cliff. A part-time legislature would mean that senators would only meet for part of the year, which would reduce the need for fixed costs. Contrary to past opposition, these impacts now are seen by many as a potential benefit.

Further, since senators would meet for only a fraction of the year, their compensation could be adjusted based upon the days in session, instead of their current $55,000 annual salary. By comparison, Wyoming, the closest state in population to Guam, compensates its legislators $150 per day during session which equates to roughly $6,000 for the whole session. Going to a part-time legislature could also save on personnel beyond the senators themselves, which cost $6 million in 2019. A part-time legislature would offer an opportunity to consolidate policy staff by party caucus, limit the number of full-time staffers and hire part-time staff to work only during the session calendar, to just scratch the surface.

Detractors argue that a part-time legislature would ultimately make the legislature less responsive in times of crisis. However, part-time legislatures are just as able to go into emergency session as full-time ones. For example, Virginia went into a special session to address criminal justice disparities, and Missouri called a second special session in November to address issues brought on by the current pandemic.

Opponents also argue that such a proposal is unattainable. They say that the resulting legislature would not be representative of the overall community because not everyone could afford to work part time. These critiques ignore, however, the real limits that already exist regarding who can serve in the legislature. A quick comparison with Hawaii’s part-time legislature is instructive — the state sees numerous custodians, farmers, small business owners and even airline pilots serving in office.

The truth is part-time legislatures are often more effective than their full-time cousins, which might be why, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only four states actually meet full time. Guam often looks to Hawaii as a comparable jurisdiction, and that state has been able to function for years utilizing a part-time system. At a time when Guam is seeing revenue shortfalls and a stagnating economy, now is the time for elected leaders to start looking for ways to cut costs while still being responsive. Elected leaders should heed the call of the people after this past election and go in a bold new direction by moving toward a part-time legislature. Though the road ahead may not be short or easy, it is better to do what is right for the island.

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